The Face of Capitalism

 

 

The phrase, “the unacceptable face of capitalism” has become something of a cliché. It emerged again recently in a report by the Commons Work and Pensions and Business committees into the failure of BHS.

It suggests that capitalism has an acceptable face which is the one more usually turned to the public gaze. If that is the case, then capitalism is, at best, two faced because its unacceptable appearance is actually the true one, the pleasanter being a mask carefully contrived as to appear real.

Theresa May, the new prime minister, has publicly promised to take action against unethical and irresponsible business practices. She has been challenged to act on that basis by stripping Sir Philip Green of his knighthood over his involvement in the demise of BHS.

The committees’ report lists a “litany of failure” resulting in the potential loss of 11.000 jobs, many already low paid, and defaulting on pension payments to 20,000 retired former and present employees.

The charge is that Sir Philip Green, and his wife Lady Tina Green, have walked away from BHS hundreds of millions of pounds richer. Those whose responsibility it was to audit the company accounts and ensure its financial viability are also criticised.

Sir Philip was awarded his knighthood as recognition for his entrepreneurial enterprise, that is, being a model capitalist. Is it not a bit rich (pun intended) to take the honour away for subsequently acting as one.

Profit and personal enrichment is fundamental to capitalism, that’s what it’s for. The problem is that the required “let the devil take the hindmost” attitude is potentially socially destabilising. In the same way unrestrained competition and the unlimited pursuit of personal enrichment can be economically destructive.

The state has the job of disguising capitalism’s ugly face. As early as 1845, in his book “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, Friedrich Engels identified the need for government regulation of capitalism for its own good. The avaricious snarl had to be tempered into a beneficent smile.

Such is Sir Philip Green’s offence, snarling in full public view. This is portrayed as a moral problem, a question of fairness, when, economically, all Green has done is act truly as a capitalist. Removing his knighthood changes nothing as far as capitalism is concerned, other than slip the mask of propriety over “the unacceptable face of capitalism” once more.

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Soft Labour

 

A candidate has emerged. The Corbyn leadership will be challenged, but what will the points of contention be over the next 9 weeks? The “unity candidate” as Owen Smith is wont to style himself declared, “I am just as radical as Jeremy Corbyn.”

If this is the case two questions are immediately begged. Firstly, why stand against the leader whose policies Smith claims to support and, secondly, how can he unify a party that has been fractured by its own MPs revolting against those same policies.

It might be claimed that it is only Corbyn himself they are against because he cannot lead them to election victory. Essentially, then, they’d be showing more concern for their own political careers than anything to do with policy or principle.

All those who declared “no confidence” in Corbyn would probably argue that the pressing need is to oppose the Tories and remove them from power at the earliest opportunity. But, to what end. If, presently, the only way this can be achieved is by Labour being Tory-lite to attract votes, then they’d be better served defecting to the LibDems.

The problem is not who leads the Labour Party, not even this policy rather than that. Austerity, or good housekeeping as the new prime minister would have it, is not the result of some fiendish Tory plot against the people.

Whether Labour politicians like it or not it is the economics of capitalism that is the source of gathering impoverishment. The assault on living standards and public services is being conducted internationally.

In Britain, it has been sustained by Tory and Labour governments since 1979. That is forty years, almost two generations, which has embedded neo-liberalism deeply in the national, and international, psyche; it has become normal.

There is not a wide conception of their being a viable alternative. There may be much grumbling about unfairness, the tax dodging rich, self-interested politicians and so on, but relatively few believe things can be fundamentally changed for the better.

This is seen in the continuing vilification of the baby boomers, perceived as grabbing for themselves when what they actually did was benefit from the rather more progressive policies followed after 1945. These were policies lauded by those who’d experienced the privations of the ‘30s.

Baby boomers, migrants, the Scots (if you’re English) or the English (if you’re Scottish), the north v south divide, the unions; whatever can be employed to turn people against each other has been and is being utilised to preserve the present ideological impasse.

Because there is this ideological agreement the two main Westminster parties become internally fractious. The EU referendum resulted from Tory dissent, while Labour’s has manifested itself in the unedifying spectacle of mass disloyalty.

If the only ambition of Labour MPs is to get a firmer grip on the greasy pole to power, then perhaps they should ditch Corbyn and select an anodyne alternative. That way they can continue to posture as the party of the people without the exceedingly demanding prospect of having to engage with overcoming the ideological block to progress.

Corbyn, Smith or whoever, electing a leader is all too easy and changes little unless people begin to develop a sense things can be changed and they start to become active in seeking such change. Even if Corbyn wins again, or if Smith wins and proves he is as radical (whatever that means), then that person will continue to be vilified and isolated by the media.

At the very least, though, Labour MPs should have shown some backbone and utilised their individual and collective energy to confront their opponents, not their own democratically elected leader.

 

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The Summer of our Discontent

 

“I’m not racist, but…” So often of late this phrase, or something very much like it, has been the preface to a vox populi of a broadcast or print media interview with an EU outer. It may even be true in a personal sense: the eastern European or Asian origin individual or family are fine, it’s the torrent of unknown others who are/will take all the jobs, housing, school places and hospital beds.

An upsurge in abuse and actual physical attacks on persons identified as non-British (or should that be non-English?) both before and after the EU referendum is an extreme indication of the visceral nature of such popular reaction.

Such is the inevitable consequence of nationalism. There were media and anecdotal reports of anti-English feelings being aggressively expressed during the Scottish Independence campaign. No matter how liberal or progressive nationalists portray themselves their whole ideology is posited on difference and exclusivity.

Undoubtedly, the fertile soil in which the seeds of nationalism are planted is popular discontent, a widespread, if unfocused feeling of being powerless. Alienation is a central feature of capitalism, people feeling increasingly distanced from their employment (or lack of it), political parties claiming to represent them, the country they live in.

So, given an apparent chance to take something back, many succumb to the temptation of what appears to be an easy option: vote “Leave” and take control of the borders. The actual root cause of popular discontent remains. Capitalism may have a few short term shocks, but as a system it remains largely untroubled.

Capitalism has proved to be remarkably resilient: while many look to its crises as harbinger of its downfall, they are continually disappointed. A crisis might well provide an opportunity, but the actual dismantling of capitalism and its subsequent replacement by a superior system, socialism, will have to be a conscious act.

Division only serves capitalism as a buttress, with people turning on each other, rather than the actual cause of their problems. The political shambles in both Labour and Conservative parties merely demonstrates that it is the self-seekers who look to benefit.

For the supposed party representing working class interests, the Labour Party, it has been an unedifying spectacle as MPs show themselves more concerned about acquiring the trappings of government rather than shouldering the difficult ideological burden of fighting for principles that would mean achieving worthwhile government.

Such an ideological struggle has been made even more difficult by a political process, the EU referendum, which has divided rather than unified the working class. As there was little rational ground for making a choice one way or the other, it left the irrational to become the determining factor. And there lies the source of nationalism.

It is not such a great step for nationalism, especially in a context of political disengagement and ineptitude, to turn very unpleasant indeed. All too easily do strong leaders arise to rescue the national cause, all too easily are armies sent marching.

Over a hundred ago, before the First World War provided confirmation, Rosa Luxemburg wrote, “The disasters into which capitalism is plunging are not in themselves any guarantee of the victory of socialism. If the working classes cannot find the strength to free themselves, then society as a whole…may destroy itself by internecine strife.”

A century and more later, in a turbulent and conflicted world, not only will borders not ensure safety they are more likely to be the focus of conflict. Votes in a referendum will not change that, the electorate being merely consumers choosing between political products competing capitalist formations have on offer.

 

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EU Referendum

 

The EU referendum is an illustration of how the contradictions of capitalism manifest themselves in the political sphere to the detriment of the working class. The competitive nature of capitalism means that there is a constant uncertainty over public policy.

It serves the interests of capitalism when that uncertainty has the effect of embroiling the working class in its machinations, maintaining workers on the capitalist terrain rather than pursuing their own class interests.

Essentially, the referendum was about trading arrangements, whether they are best conducted primarily in and through the EU or international mechanisms outside the EU’s egis. In the past workers have been seduced by arguments over free trade versus protectionism, neither of which benefits the working class.

So it has been with the referendum, workers opting for one capitalist policy over another. Worse though is the result has left the class divided between “IN” or “OUT”, young and older, indigenous and migrant.

There have been arguments made about the British working class having to take a stand against the free movement of labour. Undoubtedly, such free movement does serve the interests of the capitalist class, but so does the free movement of capital, so do all trading arrangements.

It is capitalism itself that is inimical to working class interests and until that class becomes aware of itself, acts for itself, it must remain subservient to capitalism. Neither being “IN” or “OUT” of the EU serves working class interests, either way capitalism remains firmly in control.

Problems caused by the contradictions of capitalism are all too clear: the ferment of the Middle East, the economic disparities between different parts of the EU, conflict with Russia over Ukraine, China making territorial claims, backed by an expanding military are but a few examples.

It was recently the hundredth anniversary of the first day of the Somme offensive. A decade and a half before 1916 Rosa Luxemburg was warning German socialists and workers that catastrophic war would become as much a feature of capitalism as periodic economic crises. And neither could be prevented by conferences or alliances.

The EU is but one aspect of a system, the capitalist system, riven with difficulties that cannot be solved by referenda or electing any of the Westminster Parties. Indeed, those parties presently demonstrate the self-serving nature of capitalist relations.

Essentially, parliament is the debating chamber of the Conlibour Party, its various factions squabbling over the best way the capitalist state should function. For as long as workers go to the ballot box on Conlibour terms they can expect no longer term benefit.

There is inevitably a measure of economic and financial chaos following the referendum causing a market storm. There is media talk of finding ways to overturn the outcome with a sizable demonstration in London supporting that notion.

Eventually, capitalism will find an accommodation and it will be business continued, until the next crisis. And all the while capitalism’s contradictions will be working to manufacture that crisis, be it economic, be it war, be it both.

Rather than choosing one side or the other in the referendum, Marxists should have undertaken the far more difficult and demanding course of arguing for neither, actively campaigning instead for a wider appreciation that it is capitalism, not the EU, that’s the real issue.  

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EU, Referendum and Nationalism

 

 As Engels averred, Marxism is a method, not a dogma. A sentiment easily stated but not so readily practised. It is all too easy to succumb to the comfortable “certainties” of a credenda, not having to forensically question what is simply held to be true.

For a good while there has been no article posted here. In part this has been due to activity directed elsewhere. However, there has also been a sustained period of examination of, and reflection on, previously held and stated positions. Where they have been found wanting, the process of correcting error has begun.

The recent EU referendum proved to be a catalyst. Before the campaign was launched, the accepted article of faith on this blog was that working class nationalism demanded sovereignty be reclaimed from the perfidious EU as part of a process to rebuild Britain.

Nationalism has proved to be dangerous and divisive, encouraging many of the worst political elements to spread their reactionary influence. The issues of sovereignty and free movement of labour became crucial and dangerously misunderstood.

The notion that sovereignty was being appropriated by the EU was inaccurate. National autonomy was certainly being compromised, inevitabl,y by being part of a greater political entity.

By way of analogy, joining a political party is a conscious act by a sovereign individual. In doing so that person agrees to surrender some personal autonomy to the collective party, he/she cannot be a member and then act contrary to its principles and purpose. However, the individual retains sovereignty in that he/she is free to leave the party if it demands adherence to policies no longer acceptable. Naturally, the party can expel such a member who’s unwilling to voluntarily concede autonomy.

So it is with the nation states of the EU. Britain is in the process of proving the strength of its sovereignty by reclaiming autonomy. However, that autonomy will subsequently be required for surrender by other nation states when trade deals are consequently concluded. China, for example, will not sign agreements without making demands to its own advantage that will compromise British autonomy, but not its sovereignty.

Free movement of labour between Britain and China (or any other trading partners) could well be one of the conditions. Such has always been a feature of capitalism. In its early days such movement was more usually within national boundaries: movement from the rural South to the industrial Midlands and North of England or impoverished lead miners from Cumberland to the developing coalfields of Northumberland and Durham.

Then capitalism was itself largely national in character. Now, it is international, global, and so the movement of labour reflects this. Trading blocs such as the EU try to exercise control by restricting free movement to labour within its own boundaries. However, the contradictions of international capital produces uneven economic development and conflict, much of it armed, so that labour in the guise of refugees, is drawn towards the apparent prosperity and relatively peaceable areas.

Britain might well be withdrawing from the EU, but it cannot do so from the world. All it can do is exchange one set of trading arrangements for other, as yet unspecified and uncertain, agreements. The problem is not the EU, but capitalism.

Remain or Leave were the alternatives posed by the referendum. As usual in votes organised by the state, the working class as the electorate is presented with options that serve the interests of capitalism. In this case an attempt to resolve an internecine conflict between competing capitalist camps. The working class was being asked to decide which brand of capitalist exploitation it would prefer.

By working class is meant the vast majority who depend for their livelihoods on selling their labour power. It is recognised that this class is stratified by differentials of income and, therefore, lifestyles, but it has the common factor of realising its own interests as opposed to those presently dominating society and the world, of capitalism.

The only way the working class should have responded to the referendum was by self-consciously declaring it had a preference for neither party, not voting and thereby negating the result’s validity. By participating it makes voters apparently culpable for the next crisis when crises are an inevitable feature of capitalism and can neither be prevented nor solved through the ballot box.

EU debate, such that it was, like most political processes initiated by the state, actually just keep the working class ideologically bound to capitalism, unable to pursue its own collectively defined agenda.

No matter how good, bad or indifferent the arguments were, there was no rational way of deciding between them as future outcomes were and are unpredictable. As the 2008 financial crash demonstrated, capitalism cannot foresee or mitigate the results of its own workings.

This left nationalism as a significant factor: the problem being the expression of one nationalism, in this case largely English nationalism, triggers the antipathy of a counter nationalism, such as Scottish nationalism. Thus, advocating withdrawal from the EU to secure British sovereignty actually becomes a threat to that sovereignty. Such are the contradictions of capitalism.

The SNP are a good example of a bogus alternative for workers. They have succeeded in displacing one social reform party, the Labour Party, by becoming an openly nationalist version of…a social reform party. This opportunistic trend has kept the working class firmly on capitalist terrain for over a century.

Marxists have very little influence at the moment and could not have made a significant intervention in the referendum. However, that does not mean Marxists should do other than pursue the correct line, that is, against nationalism and participation in capitalist disputes.

As Rosa Luxemburg wrote about a century ago, “It is not without reason that in revolutionary Marxism, internationalism rings out loud and clear and that opportunism is always matched by national particularism.”  It is a lesson still to be learned.

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Traducing Corbyn

 

Jeremy Corbyn was never meant to win the Labour Party leadership election. Those MPs who with grudging magnanimity leant him reluctant support for him to cross the threshold allowing him to stand didn’t for a moment expect this outcome.

However, what subsequently occurred serves to illustrate what happens when bourgeois democracy contrives the wrong result. The media becomes flooded with pernicious trivia – Did he sing the National Anthem? Will he kneel before the queen and kiss her hand? Does his jacket match his trousers? – the initial elements of character assassination.

More virulent correspondents allied to seemingly aghast Tory MPs conduct the serious business of portraying Corbyn as a threat to British security, a fifth columnist of terrorists, a potential bankrupter of the nation (after all, there are actual bankers to do this), and so on, even before he announces his intentions.

Then there is his own party, the MPs sitting behind him daggers drawn to stab him in the back. What do they care that their own members elected him overwhelmingly, democracy must not be allowed to get in the way of the liberal programme.

This is what most Labour MPs represent, liberalism, the ideology of capitalism. From before the Labour Party’s foundation there were Lib/Lab MPs and essentially that is what the Labour Party in Westminster has always contained.

Socialist notions and aspirations amongst the membership have from the outset counted for little or nothing. Inadvertently allowing one to become leader changes none of that: a combination of those refusing to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and those who join to undermine from within will be supported by an almost continuous chorus publicly disagreeing with him.

Those Labour MPs who predict their party will not win the 2020 general election will do their upmost to make sure that comes true. This is how bourgeois democracy works to ensure capitalism is insulated from the will of the people.

Of course, simply electing even a principled politician will ultimately change little or nothing. The British working class cannot vote for some preordained programme that will serve its interests. Indeed, what the recent Labour leadership demonstrates is how those who do see the need for change can be kettled down a political blind alley.

There are no short cuts, no easy answers, no leaders for the working class to simply choose and capitalism will go away. Struggle is required – struggle to determine what is in the best interests of the British working class, struggle against those forces that will strive to divert the class from pursuing those interests, struggle to achieve a rebuilding of Britain that serves those interests.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, he will either compromise to the point where he is totally compromised or the political assassins, probably from his own side of the House, will dispatch him. Either way, the British working class will not have advanced one iota by his election.

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The Defamation of Corbyn

 

The defamation of Corbyn was predictable and inevitable. From the moment he scraped together the grudging support of just enough of his fellow MPs the state and its allies, such as the media, set about the task of marginalising him.

It was a two-fold task: preferably preventing him winning the Labour leadership election while sowing poisoned seeds in the public mind in case he did. The Labour Party itself showed its true role in British politics by becoming willing participants in this process.

The spectre of Michael Foot was summoned up with grave warnings of how Labour would become unelectable led by the demon(ised) Corbyn. This was given media wide coverage on the seeming premise that repeating something over and over necessarily makes it true.

What none of the press, TV or radio commentators ever asked any of the three other leadership candidates, or their spokesmen, was, what is the point of a Labour Party that can only become electable by being at best Tory-lite?

There is no recognition that the problem for the British working class isn’t the Conservative Party per se, but capitalism. One of the most basic difficulties for those intending to replace capitalism is countering the powerful ideological hold capitalism, as the prevailing system, exerts.

While it may have within its ranks those who do see capitalism as a problem, the Labour Party is, and always has been, a pro-capitalist party. Its radical elements are within the radical Liberal tradition of trying to ameliorate the worst features of capitalism without actually opposing it, certainly without proposing an alternative.

However, in attempting to reduce the influence of the trade unions Labour has opted to open the franchise to supporters as well as members. This seems to have attracted many from that sector of the electorate most commonly alienated from the voting process, the young.

Bearing the brunt of capitalism’s attacks on the working class it is hardly surprising that a number of them have been attracted by Corbyn’s campaign, much to the chagrin of his three limp social democrat fellow runners.

Sadly, they are due for disillusionment. If Corbyn wins they will see him most likely swept away by the torrent of political abuse and aggression to which he’ll be subjected. Should he somehow withstand that and actually become prime minister, then present day Greece provides an adequate example of what happens to a radical party and leader once elected.

If Corbyn loses, then it’s business as usual for a Labour Party that may well be in terminal decline, unable to offer any meaningful alternative to the Tories.

There are those parties/groups who classify themselves as being left wing who are lending their support to Corbyn. They are deluded, always looking for that certain lefty programme that will attract electoral support. They don’t realise that electoral support is a measure of the ideological grip of capitalism.

The working class does not need left or right wing programmes, but policies that reflect and progress the class’ interests. These are not to be offered from on high by politicians, but need to be determined and fought for by the class itself.

Corbyn or some other Labour or left wing radical, no matter how genuine, cannot tame capitalism. It acts in its own interests and will either absorb or destroy those politicians that appear to be a threat, however minor, to those interests.

The most likely outcome of the leadership election is that the successful candidate will take office only to find he or she hardly has a party worth leading. Predictions that Corbyn cannot win the next general election are probably true, but it’s also likely to be true of the other three contenders as well.

 

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